#ows #olsx A day in London October 15, 2011
I just spent about 2 hours at Occupy LSX (London Stock Exchange). It was a very interesting and most excellent experience.
I arrived early. There were a few hundred people when I showed up at St. Paul's Cathedral (conveniently located less than a mile from where I've been staying for the Scala Lift Off London 2011.)
The Socialists/Marxists where there handing out information and signs.
But more people started arriving. It was a diverse bunch... from a nice 70+ year old woman who was there to protest using drones to "assassinate people overseas," to a drunk guy who Fox New instantly gravitated to, to lots of you folks with iPhones and other non-trivially expensive gadgetry, to a bunch of folks like me: well dressed 40-something to 50-something.
There was a lot of energy in the crowd and most of it was oriented towards positive and peaceful change. It was clear that everybody there had a vibe that something was broken.
The strongest vibe I got was from people who wanted jobs. That set off a lightbulb in my head. Listening to the criticism of #OWS in the US, there's a lot of talk about "whiners" and "people who are too lazy to have jobs." At least in London, that couldn't be farther from the vibe. The folks here wanted jobs. The folks here wanted to participate in the economy. The sense and extrapolation that I took from the demonstrators was that they have been denied the opportunity to participate in the economy and that's the fundamental thing that needed fixing.
It's a very interesting concept that these folks were in fact demonstrating for a market that they could freely participate in. They want to be part of the solution, to be part of a society that is vibrant and productive. The frustration that I extrapolated from the folks and the handouts and the brief chats I had with people was that there's a walled garden and the 1% are in the walled garden and they dismiss the value of the 99%. But being in the crowd, it was clear that there was a long of value and positive energy that could and in a better world would find a way to make everybody's life a little better.
Speaking of the police, there were hundreds of police there. They were very well behaved. Very polite. There were police on foot. Police on horses. Police in helicopters. Police with still cameras. Police with video cameras. Lots and lots of police.
There were also lots of reporters. Not just Fox News, but reporters from many different countries.
When the demonstrators started to move towards the London Stock Exchange (a few hundred feet away from St. Paul's), I moved with them. There was a line of police blocking all the entrances to the square that the LSX is housed on.
The police stood shoulder to shoulder with a line behind them and mounted police behind them. There were a lot of chants "Who's streets?" "Our streets!" I joined in on those chants, but felt a little weird about it given that I'm not a citizen and they're really not my streets... but I digress.
The protesters continued along the St. Paul's Church Yard alley over to a street near the St. Paul's tube station. The police at this entrance seemed to be very, very nervous. The police were standing stock still, mostly with their eyes on the ground. The mounted police behind them were having significant issues controlling their horses. The mounted police had to finally move their horses to another location. At the same time, the crowd was very relaxed. People were starting to have conversations... almost as if we were at a giant party.
For about 30 minutes, people just milled around, leaving a big gap in between the crowd and the police. Then, some folks came along with a "we are the 99%" banner and markers, put the banner in front of the police and invited people to "draw pictures of themselves." I autographed it with "@dpp" and let others draw or write what they wanted. It was an interesting way to close the gap between the demonstrators and the police.
At some point, somebody started heckling the police. I felt that it was uncalled for. I was there to show my belief that there need to be changes in the way our businesses and government are structured (not radical changes... just tunings). I was not there to get anyone excited, but having thousands of people in one place generates an energy and having that energy shared with others in other cities is a peaceful way of beginning the conversation which can lead to change. When things calmed down, I looked at a few of the police near me and said, "Thanks for being peaceful." They nodded.
That's when things started getting weird. The police formed a line in between the St. Paul's Tube station and the demonstrators. In fact, the police formed a line to stop the demonstrators from exiting as well as from entering the square where the LSX is. That was a weird feeling for me. As a foreigner, I did not want to be arrested (in the US, I'll be a peaceful demonstrator and gladly take advantage of my 1st Amendment rights... and if I'm arrested, so be it... but not on foreign soil.) The police at each of the lines boxing the demonstrators in were manifestly unhelpful. A number of well dress and quite polite people asked them how to get out. The police replied, "I only know that I'm supposed to be here. I do not know about other means of entrance or exit."
I quietly found a way out (back along the St. Paul's Church Yard) and then along some back streets and out of the demonstration zone. In the back streets, there were lots of police riot wagons and lots of police getting into riot gear. This seemed unnecessary as the demonstrators were mostly just hanging out as if they were at a giant party and the few that were being non-chill were simply using their words. Each of the police groups that I passed in the side streets, I made sure to make eye contact and say, "Thank you for being peaceful."
I left the demonstration, but plan to spend time at #OWS in San Francisco. Why, one might ask, would I care about #OWS. I'm well off and generally don't have to worry about where the meals or shelter for the rest of my life are coming from... well...
My success is based on a great confluence of excellent opportunities through my life. Yes, I'm smart and hard working, but that's not enough. I had the opportunity to borrow books from the library and read. I had the opportunity to go to excellent public schools that had reasonable funding and excellent teachers. I got contracts from private sector firms and government agencies (and oddly, the government agencies were the future-thinking risk takers... both FEMA and the RI State Library Services gave me huge contracts to do Apple ][ work even before I could drive a car.) I was able to build businesses because I could hire well trained employees, provide reasonable health care for those employees, and do business in a predictable environment. But the business environment today is much worse than it was 20-30 years ago.
Well trained employees who are foreign born are shipped right out of the country. Health care costs are insane. Deregulated banks are a slime-pit of fees and other junk that sucks hundreds to thousands of dollars out of my business every month. I don't care nearly as much about "government red tape" as I do about private sector red tape. Having more government regulation of large private sector actors makes my life easier as a business builder because the private sector is an order of magnitude more difficult to navigate than the government.
But most importantly, I want a fat middle class. A fat middle class that has enough money to eat well, educate their kids, and spend discretionary income on stuff that I sell or that my customers sell. If they don't have discretionary income, my business opportunities are smaller. If they don't educate their kids, that cost falls to me as an employer. Oh, and if I have to write the health care checks, my business is officially toast. Having a single payer, the government, means that I can focus on my business without having to focus on provider choices, policy management, etc.
The difference to my short term goodness of having 5% less income is minimal. Yet, that 5% means a world of difference for hiring more police and people who build roads and teachers, etc. I'm not going to spend that 5%. Personally, I generally buy government backed securities because I want a safe investment. So, I believe in #OWS for selfish reasons. I believe that having a set of laws that lead to greater transparency in transactions (financial, medical, business, etc.), incentives to create wealth rather than move wealth in a shell game (e.g., high frequency trading) will make everybody better off. I think that giving workers, the middle class, even bargaining power with the oligopolistic corporate entities will make wealth allocation work better over the long run. I also believe that financial transparency (like the SEC) combined with financial entity isolation (like Glass-Steagall) makes for better longer term financial markets because the markets are spending less of each transaction hedging against unknowns. I just never want to have the Chairman of the Fed not get an answer to the question, "How much is currency invested in derivative instruments?" Sheesh... come on guys... we know the precise market value of every public company... why shouldn't we know the market value of the derivatives market?
But I digress... #OWS London was a very interesting experience and I look forward to the #OWS movement growing and peacefully changing the relationships among all of us so that everybody can contribute to society and share in the bounty of what we are all creating.